Started reading The Gulag Archipelago, and its sort of mind numbing, the scale of it described in the book. Some were taken and summarily executed, some were tried and executed, some were sent to internal exile, some were sent to the Archipelago, some were put in penal battalions, and many other things.

But it does not put a number on them. Indeed, he concedes the incompleteness of his knowledge already.

Was wondering if we have any data today?

How many people in ratio to the population were taken by the state? (in the generation that lived under Stalin)

Is it 1 in 5? 1 in 10? 1 in 1000?


Not directly relevant to the question, but, interesting when put in backdrop of Gulag Archipelago.

Timur and His Squad (Timur I yevo komanda, Тимур и его команда) is a short novel by Arkady Gaidar, written and first published in 1940. The book, telling the story of a gang of village kids who sneak around secretly doing good deeds, protecting families whose fathers and husbands are in the Red Army, and doing battle against nasty hooligans had a huge impact upon the young Soviet audiences. Timurite movement (Timurovtsy), involving thousands of children, became a massive phenomenon all over the country. Timur and His Squad remained part of the curriculum in every Soviet school even up into the 1990s

I read this book when I was like 10. I think it was written to give the impression of flow of normal life, where kids can have quests and adventures in the neighborhood. No crimes, no shortages, no mention of repressions.

Came upon it from a group of marxists, who used to organize book exhibitions, of old books from the time strong Indo-Soviet ties. Books used to be translated from Russian to Hindi on quite a large scale.

  • 1
    Anyway, if you didn't already found them, these links could be helpful to you : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… rbth.com/arts/history/2017/07/28/…
    – rs.29
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 5:57
  • 2
    @Rohit your question is confusing, 100% of the population faced arrest ie could possibly be arrested, but only some were ie less than 100%. But still a large number
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 6:56
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    I suggest removing the "close family member" part. That makes the question substantially more complicated to answer. Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 17:28
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    @MarkC.Wallace i was looking to cover both legal and extra-judicial ones.
    – Rohit
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 2:51
  • 3
    @MarkC.Wallace as I understand it from reading books about the period the arrest and apprehension were pretty much synonymous. Someone could in fact be arrested and not even know it yet because he'd not been picked up by the secret police at the time, the arrest having been some bureaucrat putting his name on a list, or even just a statement to "arrest 1000 people"
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 4:54

4 Answers 4


The following is taken from the book

Richard Overy, "The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia." Penguin Books, 2006.

From pages 194-196:

Those arrested, convicted and sentenced by the NKVD agencies between 1930 and 1953 total 3,851,450. The total executed, according to these figures, was 776,074, which is very close to the figure of 786,098 for those sentenced for execution between 1930 and 1953 published under Gorbachev in 1990. The full record is set out in Table 5.1. These figures are substantially lower than the more speculative pre-glasnost estimates. The statistics for those sent to camps are consistent with what is now known from the archives of the GUlag, about the size and composition of the camp population. In 1940 there were 4 million in the various penal institutions: approximately 1.3 million in the GUlag camps, 300,000 in prison, 997,000 in special settlements and 1.5 million in deportee camps.

By 1950 there were 6.45 million in the various parts of the camp empire. Total deaths in the GUlag camps from 1934 (when accurate records start) to 1953 numbered 1,053,829, in the most part from disease, overwork, frostbite and malnutrition. Some of the NKVD executions were carried out in the camps, and may be double counted in the global total of NKVD killings. More difficult to assess is just how many of the cases tried under the security agencies were in fact criminal cases (like the case of two unfortunate peasant boys sent to mind the collective farm cows, who were caught eating three cucumbers and were each sentenced to eight years in a camp). Nor is it possible to calculate how many cases in the ordinary justice system were in fact raised under Article 58 and punished by execution or imprisonment. The numbers who died in transit to camps, in overcrowded wagons, short of food and water, in sub-zero temperatures can only be hazarded. The full reckoning of the victims of Soviet repression is certainly larger than the figures show, though by hundreds of thousands rather than millions. Executions and camp deaths between them total 1,829,903; this figure should be treated as a minimum. It need hardly be said that aggregate figures mask millions of stories of human suffering beyond the immediate circle of victims: women and men left without a partner, children without parents, families uprooted and loyal friendships obliterated. For the traumas of repression, statistical exactitude is an irrelevance.

Regarding these numbers as the percentage of the Soviet population, according to the official Soviet statistics, the numbers varied between about 150 million (1926) and 180 million (1951).

Thus, the answer to your question is something like 1 in 40.

Lastly, as for "Timur and His Squad," it is just a propaganda lit. (And not bad, if you ignore the backdrop.) A bit more "realistic," is the "The fate of a drummer-boy," by the same author, Arkady Gaidar, and written at about the same time. There, the main character discovers that people pretending to be his relatives are actually spies and is almost killed when he tries to stop them. The moral that this book is designed to convey is that "even your close relatives might be people's enemies." If you want an even scarier macabre story with the same message, read about this boy. Ironically, Arkady Gaidar's grandson, Yegor Gaidar, was the main architect of the controversial shock therapy and market economy reforms administered in Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Sometimes, life is stranger than fiction.

  • loved the trivia about the Gaidars
    – Rohit
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 11:53
  • @Rohit: Then you probably will also like to hear that Yegor Gaidar's father's name was Timur. Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 19:40

Just browsing quickly through some WP articles:

  • ~10M kulaks were repressed
  • 3-10M Ukrainians died in the famines Stalin intentionally created
  • 6M underwent internal exile, and of these maybe 1-1.5M died
  • there was genocide and deportation of Crimean Tatars, Chechens, and Ingush

The total population in the 1930's was about 29M for Ukraine, 160M for the USSR as a whole.

So perhaps 1 in 10 suffered one of these consequences over all, but the proportion would be higher if you belonged to certain groups.

  • 1
    Thanks for your effort. I was looking for figures on those arrested, not necessarily those who died as a result of the state policy's other outcomes(famines etc.)
    – Rohit
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 4:13
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    Your list is far from complete however. The total number would be much higher if other categories are included, like those sent to prisons but never into internal exile.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 6:25
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    I'd just like to point out that "repressed" was Soviet-era jargon for executed, not just fined or given some other light punishment. By the same token, an article about the Soviet Union from Soviet or Gorbachev-era that talks about accused people being "rehabilitated" does not mean what it does in the west: these are people whose reputations were restored long after their deaths. In the glasnost era and subsequent years, many of Stalin's victims were rehabilitated in this sense.
    – Henry
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 4:49
  • "Repressed"does not mean shot or put into prison. For Kulaks, majority of them were relocated. Famine in the Ukraine was not intentional. The government imported grain to help them. There are primary documents to prove that. Very wrong numbers you have.
    – Zmur
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 10:18

I cannot remember the book unfortunately so may be criticised for offering this as an answer at all. However, years ago I read an estimate of combined deaths from Stalin's purges plus the famine associated with collectivization of agriculture based on the age structure of the population recorded by Post-World War II Soviet census figures.

Not surprisingly, the number of people in age group most likely to have fought in World War II was noticeably less than one would expect compared to most other age groups, indicating the great loss of life in the war. However, there was an even bigger shortfall in the age group born immediately before them, suggesting that combined deaths from the purges and famines may actually have been greater even than the enormous Soviet losses in World War II. Sorry I cannot be more specific but that could indicate one way to approach this question.

  • 1
    I remember reading that at one point, the famine was killing so many people that the life expectancy had fallen to ELEVEN years in those areas. It was, of course, completely impossible to publish that number because of the embarrassment it would have caused Stalin so the number they published was in the low 60s, which was pretty normal for that time. Soviet statistics from those days are not to be trusted: they were all about supporting the lie about the "workers utopia" that was allegedly flourishing under Comrade Stalin.
    – Henry
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 4:44

The numbers of those who were arrested and of those who died is heavily disputed among historians. Some believe the numbers were in the low millions, others put them in the tens of millions. (Some Marxists insist the numbers were negligible, only a few thousand, and say that these happened only because of overzealous local officials.) It comes down to who seems to make the most credible case for their particular number but we all have different ways of assessing credibility.

I do know that Solzhenitsyn and his fellow survivor of the gulag Igor Shafareevich, a mathematician, wrote in Under the Rubble that they were absolutely certain that twenty million people perished under Stalin - I think that excluded those who died in WWII but I'm not positive - and may have been as high as 120 million. I also know that it used to be widely said in the Soviet Union - when it became safe to speak of such things - that not a single family in the entire Soviet Union was untouched by Stalin's secret police. Apparently every single family had a least one person arrested at the very least. (I'm not sure what definition of family they were using; I suspect they may have meant more than just the immediate family living in the same home and counted aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and so forth but that's just a guess; they may indeed have meant immediate family in the same home.)

In other words, this was not an event that touched only a handful (or relative handful) of Soviet citizens.

  • (Some Marxists insist the numbers were negligible, only a few thousand, and say that these happened only because of overzealous local officials.) Why mention this, even parenthetically, when it's obviously absurd? Here is a map of GULAGs: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gulag_Location_Map.svg . There are several hundred dots on it. If the numbers were only a few thousand, we would have to believe that each of these had no more than a few dozen occupants over its entire existence, or that the existence of most of these camps was a hoax.
    – user2848
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 2:33
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    @BenCrowell and here is a picure of Earth from a satelite and yet there are people believing that Earth is flat. Proven facts are not enough to convince some people...
    – Yasskier
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 2:41
  • @BenCrowell many leftists choose to ignore reality, will claim that many or most of the Gulag camps were not prisons at all but voluntary work assignments. They'll claim that the famines under Stalin weren't caused deliberately or even as an unintended consequence of government policy and that the Soviet state in fact helped alleviate them (a deliberate lie on all counts).
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 10:32
  • My point is not that nobody could possibly believe this. My point is that it should not be given undue weight in this answer. The answer as written implies that this is actually a possibility that could be taken seriously by knowledgeable people.
    – user2848
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 17:06
  • My apologies if anyone got the impression that I believed that only a few thousand people died in the gulags; I really DON'T believe that. But I have seen it claimed. The frustrating thing about all this is that we all end up believing numbers put forward by others. Those numbers differ widely and all may have some reason to be believed - although some would have less than others - so we all tend to pick the one that seems most plausible to us. If you're a hardcore Marxist defending that ideology, you'll tend to give more credence to a low number; personally I tend to be the opposite.
    – Henry
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 4:39

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